WASHINGTON Mike Miller grew during the offseason. Well, at least thats the word on the Miami Heat.The swingman long has been listed at 6-foot-8. But this season hes said to really be that height.Hes 6-8 again, cracked Heat center Chris Bosh. Hes not hunched over.Due to a bulging disk in his back, Miller last season waddled around like Quasimodo. He was in so much pain he thought about retiring after Miamis title run.But Miller, 32, who rehabbed during the summer while not picking up a basketball for more than two months, feels like a new man and wants to play at least two more seasons after this one. He said this is the healthiest hes been in a long time.I feel better thanI'vefelt in five years. I dont know what it is, Miller, scarcely believing he could feel so good after electing not to have surgery during the offseason, said in an interview with FOX Sports Florida. I'vedealt with something every year for the last four. So, knock on wood, I feel great, I feel real good.But heres the irony in all this. Despite his improved health, Millers playing time is down from last season, when he averaged 19.3 minutes although he did miss 27 of 66 regular-season games.The Heat (12-3), who play Tuesday at Washington (1-13) in a meeting of the NBAs best and worst, are deeper this season.They'veadded guard Ray Allen, who has gobbled up plenty of Millers minutes, and forward Rashard Lewis, who also has affected Millers time.You just be ready, said Miller, a 12-year veteran who is averaging 3.4 points in 14.0 minutes, both in line to be career lows, but is shooting 40.7 percent from 3-point range. With our team, with the depth we have, you just be ready when the opportunity comes and do your job and hope the team wins.Coach Erik Spoelstra said the Heat have a plan to keep Millers time down early in the season considering all the injuries hes battled in recent years. But Spoelstra hasnt spelled out where minutes might come from if they end up being increased for Miller.Were thinking big picture, Spoelstra said of Miller, who hasnt played 70 or more games in a season since 2008-09 with Minnesota. Hell have to constantly manage the big-picture thought with his role With Mike, we also have to think a little bit differently given the history of the last two years (with injuries). We have to have an organized program for him to make sure that he's stronger and healthiest at the end of the year. I love seeing him move around the way he has been. Hes upright, a full 6-8. Sometimes you forget how tall he is.Miller signed a five-year, 29 million contract with the Heat in the summer of 2010. After that, it was one injury after another.Miller played in just 41 games in 2010-11, bothered by an ear infection and injuries to his thumb, knee, ankle and shoulder, the last one requiring surgery. He was hampered last season due to hernia surgery and a sprained ankle in addition to his bad back.Despite the back causing him big-time pain, Miller starred in Miamis Game 5 NBA Finals-clinching win over Oklahoma City last June. After making shooting 7 of 8 from 3-point range and scoring 23 points and 23 minutes, Miller said that might have been his last game.It wasnt. Miller spent the summer in a special rehab program designed to strengthen his core. Now, hes talking about playing several more seasons.If I answer that question now, I can play for a long time, said Miller, who starred at Florida and was the 2000-01 NBA Rookie of the Year for Orlando. That can easily change. Injuries are part of this game. But, obviously, I love the game and, given the right situation, I can play as long as I feel like Im not just taking up a spot. Ive got two years left on my contract after this one, and as long as Im healthy (Miller believes he can play that long).
But theres more irony surrounding Miller, whom many thought might be waived by the Heat as part of the NBAs amnesty rule either before last season or this one. Even though he might be much healthier, the chances are better of Miller being an amnesty victim next summer.
A more punitive luxury tax enters the NBA in 2013-14, which means it might end up being prudent for the Heat to let Miller go. They would have to pay Miller the 12.8 million on the final two years on his contract, but Miami wouldnt incur a tax on the amount.Business is part of basketball just like injuries, said Miller, aware he could be an amnesty casualty next summer. If their business is to financially improve this team, theyre going to definitely do whats best for them and I completely understand. Thats part of basketball. Ive been traded before, too. I understand, and thats what you sign up for.In the meantime, Miller will look to find his niche this season. He started three games in place of an injured Dwyane Wade last month, and averaged 8.3 points. In Miamis other games, Miller has not played in two and averaged just 1.9 points in the other 10 off the bench.The Heat might be loaded. But after what Miller accomplished in the Finals last June while really hurting, they know they have a wild card who could play key minutes down the stretch as Miami defends its title.Hes the ultimate definition of a warrior, Bosh said. What he did last year, I dont know how he did it. Im sure he doesn't know either. But the effort he gave us last year was incredible. He fought through. Just the fact that hes healthy and hes able to give us really good minutes and he can feel good afterward (now) is a good thing. Hes one of the best 3-point shooters in the league.Hes also, once again, 6-8.Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson